大學 Great Learning

Wu Siu Yan
2 Nov 2004

In ancient China, officials were selected through public examination. The subjects of examination were (a) Confucius, (b) Mencius, (c) Moderated Way, (d) Great Learning.

"Great Learning" is intended for those in public office.

Here I have extracted from "Great Learning" some sayings that I consider worthy of consideration, and translated them into English. It is my hope that through these, you may understand China better, the China before the Cultural Revolution.

  • 大學之道,在明明德,在親民,在止於至善。

    "Great Learning" is

    • to publish righteousness that are of light, so that all can understand it;
    • to treat people as family members;
    • aim at perfect goodness.

  • 知止而後在定,定而後能靜,靜而後能安,安而後能慮,慮而後能得。

    If one knows to stop, then one can control oneself. If one can control oneself, then one can quiet down. If one can quiet down, then one can have peace in one's mind. If one has peace in mind, then one can think.

  • 欲修其身者,先正其心。欲正其心者,先誠其意。欲誠其意者,先致其知。致知在格物。物格而後知至,知至而後意誠.

    If one wants to improve one's morality, then one must right one's mind. To right one's mind, one must be sincere and honest and pure in one's intention. To be pure and sincere and honest in one's intention, one must have conscience. To have a good conscience, one must rid oneself of materialistic influences. When materialistic influences are gone, conscience comes. With this conscience, then one can be pure and honest and sincere in one's intention.

  • 所謂修身在正其心者,身有所忿 □,則不得其正,有所恐懼,則不得其正, 有所好樂,則不得其正,有所憂患,則不得其正。心不在焉,視而不見,聽而不聞,食而不知其味。此謂修身在正其心。

    To improve our morality, we must right our mind (or heart). If there is hatred, grudge, anger, in our heart, then it cannot be righted. If there is fear in our heart, then it cannot be righted. If we love pleasures, revelry, our heart cannot be righted. If there are worries in our heart, it cannot be righted. If our heart is not right, then seeing we would not see, hearing we would not hear, eat and we taste not. Therefore, to improve our morality, we must right our heart first.

  • 自天子以至於庶人,一是皆以修身為本. 其本亂而末治者否矣。

    From king to common people, they should single-mindedly make the improvement of their own morality as basic. If this basic is confused, then the ends cannot be managed.

  • 「顧 □ 天之明命。」

    Have regard of the Commandments of Heaven that are in the light.

  • 「克明峻德。」

    Work diligently towards having a righteousness that is of the light, and delightsome.

  • 「苟日新,日日新,又日新。」

    If we improve our morality everyday, and persist in doing so everyday, then everyday our morality will be one step higher.

  • 《詩》云:「緡蠻黃鳥,止於丘隅。」 子曰:「於止,知其所止,可以人而不如鳥乎?」

    Shujing (an ancient Chinese poetry book) : "The yellow bird knows where to rest itself -- in an isolated corner of a small mountain" (i.e. safe place). Confucius : "It knows where to rest, do people know not where to rest?"
    (Note : it means people can find rest only in having good morality, in being righteous.)

  • 為人君,止於仁;為人臣,止於敬;為人子,止於孝;為人父,止於慈; 與國人交,止於信。

    If you hold kingship, aim for righteousness. If you are under someone's authority, aim for respect and reverence. If you are a son, aim for honoring your parents. If you are a father, aim for kindness and compassion. In dealing with your fellow people, aim for honesty and keeping promises.

  • 君子賢其賢而親其親,小人樂其樂而利其利.

    A gentleman has regard for a righteous person because of his righteousness, and cares for relatives because they are his family members.
    A base fellow is happy with those who make him happy, and shows favor to those who benefit him.

  • 所謂誠其意者,毋自欺也。

    To have honest and pure intention, one mustn't deceive oneself. One must be honest with oneself.

  • 故君子必慎其獨也。小人閒居,為不善,無所不至,見君子而後厭然,掩其不善,而著其善。 人之視己,如見其肺肝然,則何益矣。此謂誠於中,形於外,故君子必慎其獨也。 曾子曰:「十目所視,十手所指,其嚴乎!」

    A gentleman should be cautious when he is alone and no one is seeing, for fear of sinning. A base fellow would sin when he is free at home, and would do all sins. But when he sees someone coming, he would hide his sins and appear to be good. However, others see us as if they can see our lung and liver! Then what good is there to pretend? If one is honest in one's heart, one's appearance will show it. Therefore a gentleman should be cautious when he is alone. Tsang-tse said : "Our neighbours would see us, would condemn us for our sins. Shouldn't we fear this?"

  • 其家不可教而能教人者,無之.

    If we cannot teach our family and keep our own house in order, then we cannot teach others.

  • 「如保赤子。」

    "Care for those under us as if we care our little child".

    (Note : in another ancient writing, there is a teaching "赤子之心", meaning, "Make our heart pure as a child". They are two different teachings. The verse above means that we should care for those under us as if they are our sons and daughters.)

  • 一家仁, 一國興仁;一家讓,一國興讓;一人貪戾,一國作亂.

    If one family practices righteousness, whole nation will practice righteousness. If one family would give way and let others go first, whole nation will give way and let others go first. If one family loves gains and cruelty, then the whole nation will be in chaos.

    (Note : we must be careful with our behaviour, and do not think : our act will not affect others.)

  • 是故君子有諸己而後求諸人,無諸己而後非諸人。所藏乎身不恕,而能喻諸人者,未之有也。

    A gentleman would possess a righteousness first, before demanding the same from others. A gentleman would rid of his error first, before demanding others to rid of that error. I have never heard of one that harbors unforgiveness in heart, yet succeed in educating others.

  • 上老老而民興孝,上長長而民興弟,上恤孤而民不倍,是以君子有□矩之道也.

    If those in high position honor the elderly, common people will honor the elderly. If those in high position show respect to those older than they, then all people will love brotherly love. If those in high position show compassion to orphans and those who have no relatives to take care of them, then the people will not be rebellious. Therefore a gentleman acts according to set rules.

  • 所惡於上,毋以使下,所惡於下,毋以事上;所惡於前,毋以先後;所惡於後,毋以從前;所惡於右,毋以交於左;所惡於左,毋以交於右;此之謂□矩之道。

    If we hate being treated that way, do not treat others that way. This is what we call the set rule.

    (Note : compare with Jesus' teaching : "So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.")

  • 好人之所惡,惡人之所好,是謂拂人之性, □必逮夫身。

    If we love to do what is abominable in the eyes of others; or if we hate what others regard as precious and is of value, then we are against man's nature, and calamity will come to us.

  • 是故君子有大道,必忠信以得之,驕泰以失之。

    There is good prospect for a righteous person. One gets it because of faithfulness (in words and deeds) and keeping promises. One loses it because of proudness and laziness.

  • 「惟命不於常。」

    "Our fate will not remain unchanged."

    (Note : it means that if we do righteousness, GOD will bless us. But if we trust in our righteousness and start doing evil, GOD will take away His blessings from us, and curse us instead. Similarly, if we are under curse, and we amend our behaviour, GOD would stop cursing us.)

  • 未有上好仁而下不好義者也,未有好義其事不終者也.

    It will not be : one who is in high position and practices kindness and compassion, yet one's subordinates practice unrighteousness.
    It will not be : one who loves righteousness, yet fails to do something.

  • 「楚國無以為寶,惟善以為寶。」

    Our nation do not treasure treasure, but treasure righteousness.

  • 此謂國不以利為利,以義為利也。

    A nation should not regard "interests" as interests, but regard righteousness as "interests".

One of the great faults of our ancestors was that they did not have the spirit of "serve humbly", and they regarded public office as fame and honor and wealth for generations! Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples during the Last Supper; and Jesus was condescension of GOD! This spirit of "serve humbly" did not exist in the hearts of ancient Chinese (except a few).

Because of this mentality, the author of "Great Learning" gave advice to be a good ruler! that one may preserve one's fame, honor, wealth, land, for all generations!

There are many sayings that I do not translate because I think they are wrong in light of GOD and Jesus' teachings. When reading ancient Chinese writings, let the teachings of GOD, of Jesus be our guide.


大學 Great Learning (complete text, in Chinese only)

Read with caution, and use the teachings of GOD, of Jesus, as plummet, because ancient Chinese had poor knowledge of laws/commandments of GOD, and had wrong idea of public office (they equated it as fame, honor, wealth for generations!).

(*) Some sayings of Confucius
(*) Extracts from 中庸 "The Moderate Way"

(*) Law of GOD and His Commandments
(*) Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
(*) Other Teachings of Jesus
(*) Hymn loved by Chinese
(*) [Home]